The day after arresting a self-described “body modification artist” for allegedly conspiring to perform genital mutilations on two girls, federal authorities said they have found no evidence that he had ever done the procedure.
But prosecutors say they believe they have enough evidence to prove that Todd Cameron Bertrang, 41, and his companion Robyn Faulkinbury, 24, both of Santa Clarita, illegally conspired to break the federal ban on such procedures.
Bertrang and Faulkinbury, who were arrested Friday, were being held without bail. Bertrang allegedly offered for $8,000 to perform two female circumcisions on the fictional daughters of an undercover FBI agent in July 2002.
As a result, he and Faulkinbury were charged with conspiring to violate the federal Female Genital Mutilation Act. If convicted, both face up to five years in prison.
Female circumcisions are typically seen as a form of mutilation that stifles a woman’s sexual pleasure -- and are thus a way for men to control women, often in Third World nations. Bertrang allegedly told the agent that some people said they liked the way the procedure made them look and feel.
Bertrang was arrested in December 2002 for practicing medicine without a license. At the time, officials suspected him of offering female circumcisions. Medical Board officials could not be reached Saturday and it was unclear how that case was resolved.
“We do not have any direct knowledge at this time that the procedure was performed on any minor girls,” Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, said Saturday. He said the investigation of Bertrang is ongoing and that the long delay in arresting him occurred because, “on the federal side of things, we have the tendency to be extremely thorough.”
Mrozek said the FBI is interested in hearing from anyone who knows about any genital mutilations that Bertrang may have performed.
Los Angeles Superior Court records indicate that Bertrang’s other brushes with the law in recent years included convictions for driving without a license and disturbing the peace.
A website maintained by Bertrang explains the evolution of his passion for body piercing. “Piercing for me has been a long journey of sexual awakening,” Bertrang wrote on the site.
In July 2002, according to a government affidavit, the FBI interviewed a woman who said she believed that Bertrang had performed a circumcision on a 10- or 11-year-old girl.
Based on that tip, a female FBI agent began exchanging e-mails with Bertrang. The agent posed as a father who sought circumcisions for his two daughters. But the agent asked Bertrang for more details.
“The benefits are because they like the look and feel,” replied Bertrang in an e-mail to the agent, according to the affidavit. “The drawbacks is that if they do not want this, you can scar them emotionally and sexually (in their mind) for life.”
In a later phone call with a male agent pretending to be the father, Bertrang said that he typically charged $3,000 for a female circumcision, but that he would not charge for a minor because “it’s totally illegal to do” in the United States.
Two months later, in October, the male agent visited Bertrang at his home in Santa Clarita. Bertrang told the agent that he could be sentenced to five years in prison if he did the procedure, according to the affidavit. Bertrang never indicated that he would not do the surgery. The next month, in an e-mail to the agent, Bertrang allegedly again offered to do the procedure.
In December 2002, agents served Bertrang with a search warrant. Several photos were found of Bertrang performing surgical procedures on men, authorities said. He was subsequently charged with practicing medicine without a license. The California Medical Board’s website indicates that Bertrang never had a license.
Times staff writer David Rosenzweig contributed to this report.